PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Nothing marks the start of Spring Training quite like a player reporting to camp and proudly proclaiming he’s in the “best shape of my life.” Brett Phillips knows it’s a time-honored spring cliché. After an offseason dedicated to transforming his body, he also believes it’s the truth.
When Phillips reported to Rays camp on Saturday morning, he revealed he has gone from 17 percent body fat this time a year ago to around 10-11 percent now. He’s only a few pounds lighter, though, as he has added strength to his 6-foot frame. His slimmed-down, muscled-up physique caught manager Kevin Cash’s eye.
“He looks really good,” Cash said. “He’s worked hard. That was encouraging.”
Phillips said his physical condition last year was “unacceptable” for a Major League center fielder, although it hardly showed. He enjoyed the most productive offensive season of his career with 13 homers and a 105 OPS+ in 118 games, finished ninth among all qualified outfielders with 10 Outs Above Average and ranked eighth on the Rays with 2.4 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference. He could be due for an even bigger role this year if Tampa Bay winds up trading another outfielder before Opening Day.
Phillips attributed his physical changes to quality workouts, a healthier diet and frequent hot yoga sessions.
“I was able to address those things I needed to address. I feel in great shape. How that’s going to translate, I don’t know,” Phillips said. “But I’m healthy and -- I know everyone says this -- in the best shape of my life.
“I feel like I’m putting myself in the best position to succeed in what I think is the most important year of my career.”
Why does Phillips believe this is the biggest season of his career? He responded first with one word: “Arbitration.” The 27-year-old has spent parts of five seasons in the Majors and accumulated enough service time to become eligible for salary arbitration for the first time. Later this month, Phillips and the Rays will either agree to a salary figure for this season -- MLB Trade Rumors projects him to earn $1.2 million -- or go to a hearing.
Phillips knows what it means, especially with a small-market team like the Rays, to be out of Minor League options and no longer make a league-minimum salary.
“That’s just the reality of it. To say you got to that point in your career, what a blessing. So cool. But it’s going to come with a lot of responsibility,” Phillips said. “I believe I can handle that responsibility. Everything leading up to this point has prepared me for that responsibility. The pressures of getting sent up and down over 10 times the last five years to just everything has prepared me for this point, to go out there and try to be the best I can be.”
Phillips played excellent defense in all three outfield spots, displayed solid power, drove in 44 runs and stole 14 bases as part of the Rays’ outfield rotation last season. He viewed it as an “encouraging” year, but one he can improve upon. Specifically, Phillips -- who batted just .206 with a 38.7 percent strikeout rate -- would like to be a more complete hitter this season.
“I think we all can agree that a guy like myself needs to put the ball in play a little more,” Phillips said. “We’re going to try to address that. We see what happens when I do make good contact. Good things happen. Last year, the Rays gave me that opportunity to show that, ‘Hey, you’re good. You have the ability.’ Moving forward, let’s maximize it.”
Around the horn
• When left-hander Shane McClanahan reported to the Rays’ clubhouse at Charlotte Sports Park, he found a new jersey hanging at his locker. Gone was the No. 62 uniform he’d worn since his Major League debut in the 2020 postseason, and there was a No. 18 jersey with his name on it.
McClanahan’s new number became available when the Rays traded infielder Joey Wendle to the Marlins for outfield prospect Kameron Misner in November. He’d talked himself into the number he was assigned -- six plus two equals eight, his favorite number and the one worn by childhood hero Cal Ripken Jr. -- but jumped at the opportunity to claim a lower number.
“Sixty-two was the right number for me. I had a lot of fun wearing it,” McClanahan said, smiling. “And hopefully I'll have a lot of fun with 18 as well.”
• As of Friday morning, the Rays had 49 players on their Spring Training roster: 31 pitchers, five catchers, seven infielders and six outfielders. They would typically open camp with more than 60 players on the roster, but the current group could grow a bit as the Rays make more moves now that the lockout’s transaction freeze has lifted.
• The spring roster includes at least three pitchers on the 40-man roster -- Nick Anderson, Yonny Chirinos and Tyler Glasnow -- who aren’t expected to be available for Grapefruit League action as they recover from injuries. The nine non-roster invitees are catcher Joe Hudson and pitchers Seth Blair, Adrian de Horta, Zack Erwin, David Hess, Dusten Knight, Chris Mazza, David McKay and Aaron Slegers. The Rays officially signed Blair and Hudson to Minor League deals, which included invitations to big league camp, earlier this week.
• Fans will have limited access this week to the Rays’ Spring Training workouts at Charlotte Sports Park’s main stadium beginning Monday at 10 a.m. Those in attendance must enter through the right-field gate security checkpoint, near the playground. Bags, chairs and umbrellas will not be permitted.